Amid the legislative chaos Wednesday, some Democrats renewed calls for President Barack Obama to raise the debt ceiling on his own — despite repeated protests from the White House that he lacks that authority.
Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (S.C.), the No. 3 member of House Democratic leadership, said the president should cite the 14th Amendment to declare the debt ceiling void. And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said on the Senate floor that the president should consider ignoring the debt ceiling and would have valid grounds for doing so.
Those constitutional fallbacks aren't yet the focus of top Democratic leaders or the White House, who still hope some version of the Reid plan or an amalgam of the Reid proposal and the Boehner plan can avert a default crisis.
Both plans were being rewritten Wednesday after unfavorable scores from the Congressional Budget Office showed their savings were less than advertised.
Reid said he would add $200 billion in cuts, which he called "minor tweaks," to his plan to find the additional savings or spending cuts after a CBO analysis released Wednesday morning found that his bill fell $500 billion short of his $2.7 trillion target.
The Nevada Democrat added that he would find at least $2.4 trillion in spending cuts, enough for a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt ceiling so that his bill would meet Boehner's demand that any debt limit increase be coupled with an equal amount of deficit reduction. By doing so, Reid would also satisfy Obama's insistence that the debt ceiling be raised through the end of 2012.
The CBO found that Reid's plan would slice the deficit by $2.2 trillion over a decade — with more than half of that coming from assumptions that the U.S. will save money by winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The GOP has ridiculed using those presumed savings as a budget "gimmick." Democrats note that House Republicans used similar assumptions for the wars in the budget that they passed earlier this year.
Senators in both parties were getting impatient at the standoff and were casting about for solutions. Popular ideas included adding triggers to the Reid bill that could lead to a vote on the Senate's bipartisan "gang of six" plan — or a shorter-term extension that would keep the pressure on to make a decision on a larger package.
Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Senators were looking to add triggers to a final package that would marry the Reid and Boehner bills. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) suggested accelerating the process by requiring Congress to produce a massive $4 trillion deficit reduction plan by Sept. 30.
White House spokesman Jay Carney indicated Wednesday that what's lacking from the debate are not ideas or time, but courage. "There's plenty of time to get this done. What's lacking isn't time. ... We all know how we get there and the variety of ways to get there. What is required now is political will. And there's time. If people are willing to find it and use it, there's time to take action," Carney said.